HC Deb 24 May 1988 vol 134 cc275-87

Lords amendment: No. 32, in page 24, line 45, leave out from "opportunities" to end of line 46 and insert for employment and training that are available to women and girls or to disabled persons;

Mr. Fowler

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The Government have reconsidered whether the Bill should explicitly mention disabled people. The Bill already contains specific provision for disabled people, through the requirement to help people train for employment suitable for their ages and capacities. The amendment emphasises that duty and I believe that it will be an encouragement to disabled people.

All the major programmes of the Manpower Services Commission make special provision for the disabled. The entry rules for the youth training scheme are slightly relaxed for disabled people so that they can enter up to the age of 21, as opposed to 17 for the able-bodied, and if they need more time at school, similar help is given. The disabled may also be given extra assessment and up to six months extra on YTS. We provide permanent additional funding for YTS for managing agents to take on disabled young people who need extra training. Furthermore, under employment training, the new adult training programme, the normal entry rules will also be relaxed for disabled people so that any disabled person can enter the scheme, whereas the able-bodied will normally have to be unemployed for six months. There will be special financial assistance for training disabled people, just as there is with YTS.

I hope that I have said enough to establish that we believe that this is an important amendment which underlines our commitment to disabled people.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Bothroyd)

I should inform the House that the amendment involves privilege.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The amendment concedes a point that we pressed in Committee, and to that extent it is welcome. It modifies the powers that the Secretary of State has taken to himself—powers that used to belong to the Manpower Services Commission—to make arrangements for training. Under those powers the MSC could, and the Secretary of State can, make special arrangements for encouraging increases in the opportunities available for women and girls for employment and training.

In Committee we argued strongly that, although women and girls have special needs as they are disadvantaged in the labour market and in their access to training, people with disabilities and people from the ethnic minorities have similar needs. We tabled amendments to include in the provision those with disabilities and the ethnic minorities. Pressure was repeatedly resisted. It seems that when the Bill reached the other place the Government were persuaded that there was a need to make special provision for people with disabilities. Perhaps they were shamed into it. However, that makes it all the more outrageous that the Government have made no such concession in respect of the ethnic minorities.

We all know that ethnic minorities suffer from discrimination in the job market. Various studies published by the Minister's Department show that young people with equal qualifications have to apply much more often for jobs if they are black and are much more likely to be unemployed. Furthermore, because of the nature of the migration of a large part of Britain's black population, the working population is disproportionately unskilled and in need of access to training. It is conspicuous that the Government have conceded the need to make special provision for people with disabilities, but are unwilling to concede the point on ethnic minorities. It seems to me that their prejudices are showing clearly.

The Minister touched on the special provision in the youth training scheme and to be made in the adult training scheme. Will he clarify the special arrangements to he made for women, girls and the disabled under this scheme? We are all aware that the Secretary of State recently wrote to the TUC, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities to make all sorts of new arrangements for the scheme that he plans to launch in September under the Bill. It is notable that there has been no announcement to the House and that we have not had a chance to comment on those changes. We know from the right hon. Gentleman's letter that he has provided for disabled people to go on his new scheme without having been registered as unemployed for six months.

The right hon. Gentleman will know, and I certainly know—I have written to Ministers in his Department about it—that many of the existing schemes that provide for disabled people have additional provisions. They are allowed to have more staff than the average scheme, because often the needs of people with more severe disabilities call for a larger number of staff. I should like to know whether there will be additional resources, exactly what they will be, and whether disabled people on the schemes will be allowed to stay on for longer than others might be.

What special arrangements has the Secretary of State in mind for women and girls? The community programme, which is to be brought to an end in September, contained special provisions which meant that women and girls were under-privileged. The Government deliberately brought in a rule that said that only those who were in receipt of benefit could have access to places on the scheme. Overnight, that massively reduced the number of women who were eligible to go on the scheme, although in the past they had only to show that they had previously been employed and had become long-term unemployed. However, that no longer mattered. It was only if they were in receipt of benefits that they were entitled to go on the community programme. That had nothing to do with the special needs of women and girls for access to temporary employment or training. It was because the Government were determined to use the scheme to reduce the unemployment figures and could not bear it if some women managed to get on the schemes and were no longer represented in the unemployment figures. The unemployment figures now are simply a count of those who are entitled to benefit, and are no longer a count of people who are available for employment.

Under the new scheme, which is based on a benefit plus regime, my understanding is that a small number of women will be allowed to take places on the scheme. However, as they are not in receipt of benefit, they will receive only £10 a week for a full week's work. That is the kind of special arrangement to meet the special needs of women and girls that the Secretary of State is proposing to make under these powers and his scheme.

Even worse, and even more misleading, the Secretary of State has trumpeted the provision in his new scheme that there is to be an allowance of up to £50 a week for single women who have child caring needs, so that they can go on the scheme. However, when we look at the details of what the Secretary of State is offering, we realise that this is a complete and absolute con. I am sorry to say that, because there is a massive need for women who are responsible for child care to be able to gain access to training. The Secretary of State is misleading the population in suggesting that he is making such arrangements.

The women who will be eligible for this child care allowance under his scheme will be those who have signed on for at least six months as being available for work. However, under the new availability for work test, those who claim to be available for work have to show, if they care for dependants—children, elderly or disabled relatives—that they can make themselves available within 24 hours to take up work. A single parent who has responsibility for child care and is in need of the £50 a week allowance provided by the training scheme to provide for child care cannot possibly prove that she is available for work and can make alternative arrangements for her children within 24 hours. Therefore, any woman who seeks to take advantage of this great privilege that the Secretary of State keeps telling us about is likely to be found to be unavailable for work, and by seeking to sign on in order to make herself eligible is in danger of becoming ineligible for benefit.

8.45 pm

The Secretary of State has told the TUC, the AMA and the NCVO—but not the House of Commons—in a letter that he wrote yesterday that another major concession that he intends to make to women is that those who have not been signed on as available for work because they have responsibilities for child care will be able to take advantage of the £50 a week child care allowance if their children are all at school and of school age. Is this a major concession? The major need for child care support is for parents with children under five—but they are not to qualify. The Secretary of State has presumably made a judgment that women with children under five should not seek to participate in his training scheme. Therefore, only those who have children at school will be able to apply for the special allowance.

The arrangements that the Secretary of State is making under this provision of the Bill are a cosmetic pretence to assist women to take up places on his inadequate training schemes, but in practice they will not benefit them at all. In fact, the overall arrangements, and the arrangements for the payment of money, mean that women will receive small amounts of money. They will receive no more than £10 a week for participating in this scheme and working for a full working week if they live with someone who is receiving the benefit.

As we have the Secretary of State here, and as this is our last chance to deal with the Bill, I ask him to clarify the Goverment's undertaking that the programme for these disadvantaged groups will be entirely voluntary. It is an important undertaking that the Secretary of State has given to the TUC. He says that he has made it clear in the House that he does not intend to designate the employment training scheme for the purposes of section 20 of the Social Security Act 1975. Hon. Members will know that the Bill provides, in clause 26, that the Secretary of State can, whenever he so chooses, designate any scheme that he provides under its powers. Anyone who refuses a place, refuses to apply for a place or leaves early will be subject to benefit loss or benefit penalty for a period of six months. Once that is done, the scheme will in effect be compulsory.

The Secretary of State is telling the TUC and the world that the scheme will not be compulsory. In Committee we asked for an undertaking that the Government would never designate the new adult training scheme as compulsory under clause 26. The Secretary of State would not give that undertaking. All he would say—he said it repeatedly—was, "I have no plans to designate the scheme." We pointed out to him that the fact that he has no plans at present to do so does not mean that he might not make some plans in a week's time, a month's time or at an even later stage. We asked the Secretary of State specifically and repeatedly for that undertaking.

The final request that we put to the Secretary of State was for an undertaking that the Government would not designate the scheme under clause 26 in the lifetime of this Parliament. For the sake of clarification, I ask the Secretary of State to give us the undertaking that neither he nor any other representative of the Government who may hold his office will designate this new scheme under clause 26 in the lifetime of this Parliament. We shall then he sure that the Government are not playing games with words in the undertaking that the Secretary of State has given the TUC. I hope that he will agree to do that. If he does not, I think that we will be entitled to draw the conclusion that he is playing games with everyone in giving undertakings that the scheme will be voluntary, but giving the undertakings in carefully framed words in order to keep open the possibility of making it compulsory in the future, should he wish to do so. The Secretary of State would then tell us that he did not earlier have plans, but he has made the plans more recently.

We welcome the minor concession that is contained in this Lords amendment. It shows that the Secretary of State, under pressure from us and from the other place, has taken the power to make special provision for women and girls. We believe that his refusal to include ethnic minorities is a straight representation of the Government's prejudice when it comes to equal rights for ethnic minorities. This is deeply regrettable and it should be agreed by both sides of the House that everyone in our society deserves the chance of equal access to employment and training. The failure of the Government to take powers to make special provision for ethnic minorities is deplorable and sad.

What we know of the Government's actions under their power to make special provision for the needs of women and girls in employment and training—I refer to the arrangements that they made for the new wretched adult training scheme which is supposed to take effect in September—do not give us any confidence of any genuine commitment to advance the ability of women and girls to have access to training and to the employment market.

Mr. McLeish

I welcome the limited concession of Lords amendment No. 32. However, it is a pity that when the wider amendment was moved in Committee the Government comprehensively rejected the inclusion of a reference to substantial minorities and special groups.

I should like to refer to the disability aspect of the amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said, we deplore the exclusion of other special groups from the legislation, because it seems to us that much could be done to meet the employment and training needs of the community. Special efforts must be made for the disadvantaged and for groups which find it difficult to have equal access to the opportunities that most of the community both take for granted and have access to.

It is important to refer to clause 24 of the original Bill, which refers to encouraging the provision of increased employment and training opportunities for women, girls and disabled people. We would have been happier if it had referred not only to increases in opportunities but to improvements in those opportunities. If we have one clear worry about the Government's new training programme, the Bill and the amendment, it is about the lack of concern for equality. I am sure that when the Secretary of State replies he will deny that allegation.

I should like to relate the issue of equality to disabled people and to their lack of opportunities in the United Kingdom. A recent report by the National Audit Office was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee and then published. It was a fairly damning indictment of what the Manpower Services Commission is failing to do for the training and employment of disabled people. It highlighted the fact that the 3 per cent. quota scheme was being largely ignored by many employers and that the scheme could not be monitored effectively. The MSC and the Department of Employment conceded that it was a system which was in place and had remained there for a number of years, but which was largely ineffective in producing the right opportunities in the right place, at the right time, for many of the disabled in our community. The report also stated that in many respects there seemed to be a lack of commitment to and concern for such a vulnerable group. That was reinforced by the Cinderella approach taken to disabled people by the Department of Employment and the MSC.

The report also highlighted the fact that in 1988 we still have a system of sheltered workshops, some of which have not improved since the early war days. We are not, in any way, promoting the integration of disabled people on the scale that we should be. Through Remploy and sheltered workshops much fine work is being done, but it does not match the needs of the community or the needs of a dynamic and modern employment service in the latter part of the 20th century.

The National Audit Office report clearly confirmed that as a nation we are not doing enough for disabled people and that they are getting a raw deal, with little prospect of significant improvements at this stage. That reinforces the Lords judgment that they should include a special reference to disabled people in the amendment. While we criticise the Government for being grudging, our real desire is that they should take on board the Lords amendment—not only the wording of the legislation, but the spirit that is required to tackle what I believe to he urgent problems.

If we are looking for guidance, the same report highlighted the work of the sheltered placement scheme. This is a system by which the Government, local authorities and private sector sponsors provide employment opportunities for disabled people. The advantages of the programme are that it is well thought through, well funded and provides opportunities in industry and the public services that are far removed from the idea of shutting people away from the community by placing them in workshops where they cannot find the social harmonisation or integration that should underpin the system.

If the Government wish to take on board the spirit of the amendment and to develop it further, they should consider the sheltered placement scheme and combine two things in one programme. First, there should he proper employment opportunities—not make-believe or made-up jobs, but real jobs in the community. Secondly, they should provide training for disabled people and give them the security of a full-time post. The lives not only of able-bodied people but of people with disabilities would be much improved if they were in employment and had received training, rather than receiving training with little prospect of a proper job at the end of it, which is what many people on the community programme or the YTS suffer.

Disabled people are a special group and require special discrimination in their favour. They require many additional resources, which are not being made available at present. The figures for sheltered placements are encouraging and increasing, but they should be measured against the many registered disabled people at jobcentres and against the disabled people who are registered at jobcentres—that is a fine distinction. Many disabled people have little prospect of improving their position in society.

If the amendment is taken seriously, we can go forward. It would be a measure of the Government's commitment if, when replying to the debate, the Secretary of State gave some encouragement and assurances that that development will be tackled swiftly, building on the work of the report by the National Audit Office and on the work of the PAC.

It would be remiss of me not to mention another factor that affects disabled people. While the Government can say that unemployment is coming down—the facts speak for themselves and the numbers of people who are claimants are certainly being reduced, although we could have another debate about how that has been achieved—finding a job is especially difficult for disabled people at a time of mass unemployment. We should remember that 2.5 million people are still unemployed. It is difficult for disabled people to find work in a dynamic job market, but when 2.5 million people are unemployed, and when unemployment is reinforced geographically throughout the nation, their plight is worsened. I should like to think that the pressing problem of unemployment, which means that disabled people are crushed at the bottom of the pile, will be taken seriously and linked to positive aspects of Government policy on sheltered placements.

Disadvantage and disability are high on our political agenda. I should like to think that after a grudging acceptance in the Lords of the inclusion of disability we can at least say that that is included. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood rightly said, other special groups have been excluded, so this is a step forward. However, it is a step forward only if the Secretary of State and his Department respond positively. I am not talking only in terms of resources, because a positive response requires a top to bottom shift in the attitude of the MSC and the Department of Employment. Disability is too serious to continue to be ignored in the way in which successive Governments have ignored it. I look to the Secretary of State to say "Yes, we accept the inclusion, but, more important, we want to go forward to provide a change of attitude and resources."

Mr. Leighton

I add my welcome to this limited concession, which, as I understand it, means that disabled people can receive training without having been in receipt of unemployment benefit for the previous six months. This is a first-class idea, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said, there is another group of people who are not physically disabled but have a disability in the labour market because they are single parents with young children. It is difficult for them to enter the labour market.

9 pm

In the new training scheme there is the interesting and welcome idea of a child care allowance. We must all consider more seriously the question of child care. My hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood said that there had been some movement on that issue, but, as I understand it, certainly in the pilot project areas, that allowance was available only to people who had been in receipt of unemployment benefit for the previous six months and, as a result of that, only about a dozen applications had been made in all the pilot project areas. The idea had, therefore, been a complete flop, as there had been no take-up. That was because people in those circumstances did not have an employment record, and had not been in receipt of unemployment benefit. They had not been able to qualify and were therefore in a Catch 22 situation. I should like to see that position altered, so that any single parent—they are primarily young women—would be in the same position as people with other disabilities and would qualify without having an employment record.

Ideally, we should work towards a consensus in the House on training. Every other country that I visit has a consensus. It is not seen as a matter of great controversy. It has been a matter of controversy in this country because the training and other special employment projects have been tailored to have a "register effect", to take people off the unemployment register and, effectively, to massage the unemployment figures. In other countries it is just as important to take people out of the welfare figures as it is to take them out of the unemployment figures, but in this country the unemployment figures are considered more politically sensitive. I hope, therefore, that we can make a change to the £50 allowance for single mothers, and I shall be pleased to hear the Secretary of State's comments on that.

I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood when she referred to the assurances that the scheme would be voluntary, as there are fears about that. I expect that the Secretary of State will say that the scheme is voluntary and that he does not intend to alter that. It must be voluntary at present, if only because there are insufficient places to offer everyone in the client group—as there is, for example, in YTS. People fear that the new programme will not be a raving success and that the target figure of 600,000 will not be hit, and that if the scheme flops, as JTS did, compulsion will be exerted to bring people into the scheme. I am certain that the Secretary of State will say that those are base fears that should not be entertained, so I do not understand why he cannot say, certainly for the lifetime of this Parliament, that the scheme will be voluntary and that there is no question of it being designated under clause 26.

One attraction of that to the Minister is that it would not cost him any money. Some of the other suggestions that I should like to make would cost him money, but this would not cost a penny and, in many ways, would help to clear the air. Another way of making the new training scheme slightly more attractive, which again would not cost him any money, would be, if he could so arrange it, as with YTS or the community programme, for the allowance to be topped up by local authorities or employers. Many employers are not anxious to have industrial conscripts drafted into their plants and are willing to give a top up. However, as I understand it, anything over £5 is at present clawed back by the Department of Health and Social Security. That must be perverse. I cannot understand the advantage to the Government of that arrangement.

If we are to move to a benefit-plus arrangement rather than have some sort of rate for the job, which in itself is controversial enough, we should look at the amount of the premium. At the moment it is £10. The first £5 would go for travel, and that leaves just £5. The cost of being at work is more than staying at home so there is not much plus at all above the benefit. The Government should double the amount of the plus above benefit. I understand that that would cost £180 million, but that is not a very large sum of money and I do not see why we should spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar.

It might be some consolation to the Secretary of State to know that last year the class 5 vote was underspent by £178 million. That means that he already has the money for one year. In the following year it might be an extra charge to the Treasury. However, if it is difficult to fill the 600,000 places, there could be slightly fewer people on the scheme and the cost to the Treasury would be reduced and he could pay for the increase out of those savings. These helpful suggestions might make the programme slightly more attractive.

The country badly needs high quality training. There should be consensus in the House on that and it should not be seen just in terms of its effect on the register. We should see that it is well funded. The scheme is under-funded and to put into it an extra 200,000 people without at the same time putting in extra money causes problems for everybody. If the matters that I have mentioned were looked at and implemented, they might make the scheme more attractive. A firm statement that the scheme was voluntary would not cost the Secretary of State anything and would be very acceptable.

I should like the Secretary of State to respond to the question of the £50 allowance for the single parent. The allowance should not just be aimed at getting people off the unemployment register. It should be a good thing in itself, because it is a good idea to look at child care and to enable young women, as single parents mainly are, to cease being welfare recipients and to become taxpayers earning their own living in the labour market.

Mr. Fowler

The amendment is very narrow but it has led to a fairly wide debate. I shall try to respond to the points that hon. Members have made.

I entirely agree with the central point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) that we should seek to try to find as much agreement as we can between all the parties about training for the unemployed. That is entirely in line with everything that the Government have sought in employment training. Irrespective of that, it is a sensible aim for all parties in the House.

The proposals about employment training from the Manpower Services Commission were unanimous. The hon. Gentleman will know from his expertise in this area that the Manpower Services Commission is made up of nine commissioners. Three are from the Trades Union Congress, three from the Confederation of British Industry and three from education and local authorities. The commission submitted to me an entirely unanimous set of proposals covering about 50 pages and I accepted those proposals in full and did not try to double-guess them.

Ms. Short


Mr. Fowler

Perhaps the hon. Lady would allow me to continue. I shall give way to her in a moment.

As I say, I accepted those proposals in full and for that reason it is fair to ask that other hon. Members should consider their position in this important debate on employment training. It is not a matter upon which we should have the kind of divisions that, regrettably, have appeared over the last few months. I hope that we can put that behind us.

The whole purpose of training is to help the long-term unemployed. Whatever may be said by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), and whatever may be our differences in respect of unemployment figures, the number of long-term unemployed has fallen. I announced today a record fall in the past 12 months. Even more important is the fact that there are many more jobs available in the economy than there have been for many years, with more than 700,000 vacancies around the country.

Ms. Short


Mr. Fowler

If I may continue, I shall give way to the hon. Lady later.

My ambition is to give the long-term unemployed training that will provide them with the skills necessary to fill the vacancies which are increasingly available. It is my purpose to reach as much agreement as possible, though I must say that I do not respect what has been done by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) in respect of the training programme.

In my meetings with the TUC, the Scottish TUC, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and local authorities, I have underlined my belief that we should take full advantage of the training opportunities which exist.

Ms. Short

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Employment would not wish to mislead the House, but he described the new scheme as reflecting the unanimous proposals of the Manpower Services Commission. Does he not concede that he told the commission how much money was available to it, that the scheme would have to be a benefit-plus system, and how many people were to be covered by the scheme? No one on the committee concerned would have come up with such a scheme had the Minister not imposed those constraints upon it.

The Minister claims that he seeks a consensus on training, but he recently threatened the TUC. He knows that many unions do not believe that the scheme is good for the long-term unemployed. There is some question whether the TUC's general council will support it. If it does not support the scheme, the Minister has warned that he will close down the Manpower Services Commission. Is that a search for a consensus on training? I think not. It is in no way accurate for the Minister to pretend that such is the position he occupies.

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Lady is attempting to draw the House into a much wider debate, but I shall try to respond to her comments. The situation is exactly as I stated. The Manpower Services Commission made a unanimous report to me. The tripartite organisation of the commission is all about hammering out proposals which can be put to the Government. I emphasise again that I accepted the commission's proposals in their entirety.

The hon. Lady has a very heavy burden of guilt to bear. She will have to shoulder the burden of guilt if the scheme does not work out, although I do not want to debate that point with her today.

I could not have done more to demonstrate my willingness to seek the consensus which has been urged upon me than by accepting all the proposals which were put to me. Beyond that, and as a result of the visits to me by the TUC and other authorities, further proposals have been made which I hope will also prove attractive to those organisations. They were set out in my letter to Mr. Norman Willis, general secretary of the TUC. I have made a copy of that letter available to the hon. Lady and one has also been placed in the Library.

9.15 pm

As I have said, the Government believe that explicit mention in the Bill of disabled people has some value and will continue to do so. Even more important—I entirely agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish)—in a Bill, that is a declaratory statement of what we want to do. We want to develop training provision for disabled people to the maximum possible extent, and, given the time that I spent in the DHSS, I hope that no one needs to convince me of the needs that exist and the concern that we should feel.

The normal entry rules will be relaxed so that any disabled person will be able to benefit from employment training. There will be special financial assistance for training disabled people, just as there is in the YTS, which will help towards the costs of, for instance, adapting premises and special equipment. We are also allowing supplementary grants for sponsors, which will be available to cover the higher costs in general of training groups such as the disabled.

I guarantee the hon. Gentleman that we shall do everything in our power to help further. Any programme has to evolve, but I hope that we are showing our commitment to the future.

I am of course aware of the report by the Public Accounts Committee on employment assistance for disabled adults. We have put in hand a review within the Department of the policies and programmes that we support for disabled people in employment, which will take full account of the conclusions reached by the PAC and which will be completed as quickly as possible during the current year. I also note the welcome given in paragraph 35 of the report to the considerable measures that the Department of Employment and the MSC have already put in hand in the six months following the publication of the National Audit Office report. We shall certainly try to take that as far as we can.

There is nothing between us on the subject of ethnic minorities. Although it is not included in the Bill as such, we want and expect the maximum provision for them. Section 37 of the Race Relations Act 1976, for instance, allows training providers to take positive action on behalf of ethnic-minority groups, and I hope that the references that we have made to that will be taken into account. We have already announced that we will seek to allow the Training Commission to make full use not only of section 37 but of any other means open to us.

One of the criteria for achieving approved training organisation status will be the active pursuit of equal opportunities. In seeking to reach the highest possible standard in training, we have now reached a point at which people must have approval. The programme for approved training organisation status, which, for example, the YTS has at present, will also apply to employment training. I repeat that one of the criteria for achieving such status will be the active pursuit of equal opportunities. Again, if there is anything further that the Government can do in that respect, I should be happy to consider it.

I underline that I have accepted the commission's view that the scheme should be voluntary. I do not intend to designate it as an approved training. My aim and intent is that trainees should be attracted to the programme by its quality and relevance. If people have doubts about that—although I cannot see why they should have such doubts—I hope that they will realise that if they are members of the Manpower Services Commission involved in employment training, they can ensure that the voluntary nature remains part of the programme, as I intend.

Ms. Short

The Minister knows that the voluntary nature of the scheme is very important. He has said that he has no plans and that it is not his intent. Will he say now that he will not designate the scheme under clause 26 in the lifetime of this Parliament? If he says it, we shall know that he means it.

Mr. Fowler

We have had this debate time and again. I do not think that it is sensible to set down artificial time limits, because that implies that after a certain time we shall be into the approved argument and the whole scheme will become compulsory. That is neither my intent nor is it my approach. The aim of the scheme is to attract people to it. It is a voluntary scheme. Members of the Manpower Services Commission have not just the right but the absolute power to check that that is the case.

Mr. Riddick

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Fowler

No. I should like to get on.

Payment to trainees is an important point, and I hope that I can help the hon. Gentleman. Trainees will receive a training allowance. Obviously that training allowance will be adjusted to their circumstances through their entitlement to benefit. In other words, we are aiming to ensure a position in which no one is worse off when taking part in the training programme than they would be on benefit.

That is not so important for young people. It means that for the first time we can bring into the programme families with children who have greater entitlement. That is recognised by a whole range of organisations. The training allowance will provide a lead of £10 to £12 a week more than benefit entitlement. It will also provide travel expenses over £5 a week and lodging costs for training away from home. It will provide assistance to meet the cost of special clothing and tools and child-care costs of up to £50 a week per child for lone parents. I shall return to that as a separate issue. Trainees will not be liable to income tax or national insurance contributions and those on income support will be entitled to the passport benefits which go with social security. In any event, that is a substantial package which will ensure that everyone on the new programme will be better off than they would be if they were simply on benefit.

Additional payment can be made by training managers or employers without affecting the trainee's allowance. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) mentioned DHSS rules which allow voluntary payments of up to £5 a week. That certainly can be done.

In addition, items such as special clothing, travel costs and subsidised meals can be provided by training managers or employers if they so wish. The importance of that would be, for example, if a trainee manager or employer decided that the £5 of travel costs which are not covered needed to be covered, it would he entirely in their power to do that without it having any impact whatever on the trainee. Therefore, that can be covered, as can the cost of meals.

In addition, we shall provide a system of training bonuses which will be paid to trainees on the basis of their successful completion of the training programme and for obtaining vocational qualifications. The bonuses will range between £50 and £200. The MSC, with Government funds, will contribute on a pound for pound basis. We have come a long way to seek to satisfy some of the legitimate anxieties that people have about the programme. I hope that our movement will be recognised by those who make the decisions.

On the eligibility of special groups, the current level of provision will be maintained in the new programme—that is for disabled people, women returning to the labour force, people whose first language is not English and ex-offenders. Those groups will be able to enter the programme without meeting the normal eligibility requirements of six months' registered unemployment.

Single parents, like other people, will be eligible for the new programme if they have been registered as unemployed for at least six months, and the child care costs of all single parents on the new programme of up to £50 a week per child will be paid, again as recommended by the MSC. I have decided to go beyond the MSC proposals. There should also be additional arrangements whereby single parents, all of whose children are in full-time education and who have received income support on DHSS order books for at least six months, should also be eligible for the programme. All such single parents entering the programme will qualify for child-care allowances.

It is perfectly fair for the hon. Lady to say that that only goes part of the way. But we have now not only accepted the MSC proposals, but gone beyond them with our proposals on finance. On all these schemes and programmes, the start is not necessarily how they will end up for all time. However, the start that we have made on child-care allowances is innovative and, even given reservations, I hope that it will be welcomed as a substantial step towards what many people on both sides require.

I have strayed rather wide of the amendment, but these are important issues which I wanted to put before the House before important decisions are taken.

Question put and agreed to. [Special Entry.]

Lords amendment No. 33 agreed to.

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